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Orphanage for children of Iowa Civil War soldiers opened 150 years ago on Nov. 16

By the time the Civil War ended, there was a new group of casualties: the orphans of Civil War soldiers whose parents were both dead or were unable to care for them. On Nov. 16, 1865, an orphanage opened in an abandoned military training camp in Davenport, Iowa, to care for about 130 children who […]

Two Gentlemen Who Couldn’t Possibly Take Charge of Connecticut’s Stamped Paper

When the British government instituted the Stamp Act for North America, one of the first steps was to buy a lot of paper. With the tax added, that paper was budgeted to bring in over £100,000 from the thirteen colonies that became the U.S. Show More Summary

Do We Need Another Biography of Custer?

My latest essay at The Daily Beast is a review of T.J. Stiles’s new book, Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New…

Josiah Quincy for the Defense

Yesterday we left tobacconist John Willson on trial for the murder of a shoemaker named David Murray in 1771. That was on 6 September, slightly less than a month after Murray had turned up dead on the shore of Boston Neck. The facts weren’t in Willson’s favor. Show More Summary

The Life and Death of David Murray

On 10 Apr 1755, shoemaker David Murray and Mary Fitzgerald married at the New South Meetinghouse, having announced their intention the previous October. Soon afterward, Boston employee Robert Love visited them at their home on Blowers’s Wharf in the South End, according to Cornelia Hughes Dayton and Sharon H. Show More Summary

“Glass Branches” for the Old North

This week Bryan McQuarrie of the Boston Globe reported on the return of an eighteenth-century chandelier to the Old North Church in Boston’s North End.The five-armed glass chandelier first came to the church as half of a matched pair. Show More Summary

Hawley, Adams, Gridley, and Otis, Attorneys at Law

Going back to the newly digitized Joseph Hawley Papers at the New York Public Library, one noteworthy item is Hawley’s commonplace book. A commonplace book was a notebook in which a (usually) gentleman copied out passages from books or documents that he found interesting, thoughts he wanted to explore, and other material. Show More Summary

Meeting the Quincy Women, 12 Nov.

In January 1759, John Adams paid a call to Col. Josiah Quincy’s house in Braintree (shown here).There the young lawyer found his host’s daughter Hannah (1736–1826) and her first cousin Esther Quincy (1738–1810). Referring to Hannah Quincy as “O.” in his diary, Adams compared the two young ladies:O. Show More Summary

150 years ago today, Andersonville prison commander Capt. Henry Wirz was executed

A few minutes past 10 a.m., Nov. 10, 1865, former Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp commander Capt. Henry Wirz walked briskly from the Old Capitol prison in Washington D.C., where he had been held since his arrest in May after a military tribunal had found him guilty of violating the rights of prisoners according to the rules […]

Poking through the Joseph Hawley Papers

Harvard University isn’t the only institution digitizing Revolutionary-era documents, of course.The New York Public Library ended up with a bunch of significant papers from Massachusetts, including Samuel Adams’s papers and the correspondence of the Boston Committee of Correspondence. Show More Summary

George Will’s Serious Historical Credentials

The estimable Heather Cox Richardson sympathizes with George Will in his despair over Bill O’Reilly’s book, Killing Reagan. Will decries “today’s cultural pathology of self-validating vehemence with blustery certitudes substituting for evidence.” Just so. But one recalls this example of “the Magisterial Mr. Will” (oh yes, dear readers, for that is how he was billed […]

Digging through Harvard’s Digital Papers

I rather like my segue yesterday from the Stamp Act confrontation unfolding 250 years ago to Harvard’s new Colonial North American Project. As the university announced, its archivists are digitizing all the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century documents in several different collections. Show More Summary

“Make Application before the said first Day of November”

Here’s a glimpse of Ames’s Almanack for 1766. Usually almanacs were published at the end of the preceding year, sometimes reprinted in the first couple of weeks of the year they covered.The 1766 almanacs, however, would then fall under the provisions of the Stamp Act, taking effect on 1 Nov 1765. Show More Summary

It Was Ten Years Ago Today

Ten years ago today I wrote my first blog post. Below is a screenshot of what the site looked like during that first week. I…

Harrisburg held grand review of the Union’s black troops 150 years ago and will do it again Nov. 14

Harrisburg, Pa., put on a grand event for the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) seven months after white troops had marched in a victorious parade through Washington D.C. to mark the end of the Civil War. Whether the black troops were specifically excluded from the national, two-day celebration is still being debated, but on Nov. 14, […]

“As regular as a military Corps”

As I read the accounts of anti-Stamp Act demonstrations from late 1765, I’ve been struck by their emphasis on the crowd’s military discipline. After the 1 November procession, Gov. Francis Bernard reported to London: “[Ebenezer] MackIntosh...Show More Summary

“The union was established in a very ceremonial manner”

So what did the “Union” of North End and South End gangs on the fifth of November 1765 look like?As the Massachusetts Historical Society quoted in 2009, chronicler James Freeman described the day this way:the disorders which had been...Show More Summary

The Danger of Pope Night in 1765

As I described earlier in the week, Boston’s civic leaders were very nervous that the fifth of November in 1765 would bring on a riot. As it usually did.On that date young British males traditionally observed Guy Fawkes Day or Pope Night by carting around effigies of the nation’s political and religious villains and burning them. Show More Summary

Flag from CSS Shenandoah, furled Nov. 6, 1865, on display again 150 years later

After circumnavigating the globe and capturing or sinking 38 commercial Union ships, the raider CSS Shenandoah finally furled her huge Confederate flag at Liverpool, England, and surrendered eight months after the surrender at Appomattox.  She was the last Confederate combatant of the war and had been hunted by the U.S. Navy. From 10 a.m. to […]

A Quick Word About Historiography and Popular History

I am charging through T.J. Stiles’s new biography of George Armstrong Custer, which I agreed to review for The Daily Beast. I’ve read his previous…

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